'She is anybody's game' - World Cup wide open, says former Irish-Kiwi star

The All Blacks have been caught by the rest of the rugby world, making this year's World Cup in Japan as close as it's ever been, according to Kiwi former Irish star Jared Payne.

Having left New Zealand for Irish side Ulster in 2011, Payne would go on to play for Ireland in 20 Test matches, as well as being a member of the British and Irish Lions' touring party in 2017, before calling time on his career in May last year due to injuries.

With a lengthy career in both hemispheres, Payne offers a unique perspective in terms of rugby's northern-southern divide, saying that things aren't as clear cut as they used to be.

"There used to be a big gulf between the New Zealand, Australian and South African club teams and those up here but I think it's slowly evening out," Payne told the NZ Herald.

"There's a lot of good club teams up here that would challenge the best in the Southern Hemisphere any day of the week.

"The All Blacks are going to keep leading the world and if they do lose a few each year it's not a big thing because the standard is getting better."

Meanwhile, with this year's World Cup fast approaching, Payne also says that Steve Hansen's side are going to have to work if they want to take home an unprecedented third straight Webb Ellis Cup.

"It's going to be tough for the All Blacks but they'll find ways to try stay ahead and other teams will try and chase them so it's going to be interesting over the next few years to see where things settle.

"I can't remember a World Cup being this open. If you make the top eight, she is anybody's game from there."

British & Irish Lions Tour To New Zealand 2017, FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand 20/6/2017
Chiefs vs British & Irish Lions
Lions' Jared Payne scores their fourth try
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan /
Lions' Jared Payne scores his side's fourth try against the Chiefs in Hamilton. Source: Photosport

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